Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Mike Pompeo as head of the CIA, said her “moral compass” won’t allow her to create another torture program. But she also wouldn’t exactly condemn the previous one.
While facing questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee during her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Haspel piled on the legalese to talk about her relationship to the agency’s interrogation program in the early aughts. The program used torture techniques like waterboarding to extract intelligence information under duress.
While Haspel, a veteran of the CIA and deputy director since February, doubled down on her promise to not create another program, which ended in 2007, she also defended the people who ran the program and said political polarization over torture has harmed the CIA’s reputation.
“I’m not gonna sit here, with the benefit of hindsight and judge the very good people who made hard decisions who were running the agency in very extraordinary circumstances at the time,” Haspel said. “The very important thing to know about CIA is that we follow the law. We followed the law then, and we follow the law now.”
Haspel came closest to outright defending the program in response to a question from Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, who asked her about her involvement with the torture program after the government had already banned waterboarding.
“Like all of us who were working in counterterrorism, we believed in our work,” Haspel said. “I think we did extraordinary work. To me, the tragedy is that the controversy surrounding the interrogation program, which, as I’ve already indicated, to Senator Warner, I fully understand that. But it has cast a shadow over what has been a major contribution to protecting this country.”
Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, pressed Haspel too. And again she dodged the question.
“Do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?” Harris asked, following on her colleagues’ questions.
After a pause, Haspel responded, “I believe CIA officers to whom you referred —”
“It’s a yes-or-no answer,” Harris pressed.
“Senator, I believe that CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country given the legal tools that we were authorized to use,” Haspel said.
But Harris wasn’t satisfied and insisted Haspel still hadn’t answered the question. Haspel also wouldn’t give a straight answer when asked by Harris if she agrees with President Donald Trump that torture “works.”
“Senators, I don’t believe that torture works, I believe that in the CIA’s program — and I’m not attributing this to enhanced interrogation techniques — I believe, as many directors who have sat in this chair before me, that valuable information was obtained from senior al Qaida operative that allowed us to defend this country and prevent another attack,” Haspel said.
“Is that a yes?” Harris pushed.
“No, it’s not a yes,” Haspel responded.
Cover image: CIA nominee Gina Haspel is sworn in during a confirmation hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, May 9, 2018 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)